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“Turn up the Lights!” by Fr. George W. Rutler

Empire State Building Light
February 9, 2014

by Fr. George W. Rutler

The first creature was light itself: “Let there be light.” It is hard to describe light without referring to its opposite. “The people who dwelt in darkness have seen a great light.”

Light and life go together, and there are countless “last words” that have to do with light as life ends. As he was dying, the poet Goethe cried out, “Mehr Licht!” (More light!)—but in his case it most likely had no spiritual meaning. He had also been a scientist, one who considered that his best book was The Theory of Colours, and he probably was just asking that the window shades be raised. In retrospect it is poignant, though not of any religious intent, that Theodore Roosevelt said as he went to sleep for the last time: “Put out the light.” But there was nothing prosaic about what O. Henry said with his last breath right here in old New York: “Turn up the lights—I don’t want to go home in the dark.” However oblique his spiritual intuition may have been, it seems laden with an ancient appeal to the One “in whom is no darkness at all.”

None of our Lord’s utterances was more startling than “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). As the light itself, he declares that he is not a creature, but the divinity who creates, and he does so together with “the Father of lights, with whom there is no change, nor shadow of alteration” (James 1:17), and with their Spirit, who will “enlighten the hearts of the faithful” with the fire of love. That is the essence of the words in the Creed: “Light from Light.”

The light of life that God gives us “is entrusted to us to be burning brightly.” We can make that light beautiful or garish. G.K. Chesterton was entranced by the billboard lights in Times Square advertising soaps and cigarettes and hair tonic and remarked, “How beautiful this would be for someone who could not read.”

Our Lord wants his own light to shine through his human creatures so that it might give “light to all the house” (Matthew 5:15). In our case, that house includes our own neighborhood, with its astonishing challenges and potential, with skyscrapers being flung up all around us and the promise of immense commerce. Like the Empire State Building, which is a nightly light show of colors that would have delighted Goethe, the saints are an even more wonderful light show themselves. They are the “generation that seeks him…” (Psalm 24:6) and, to tolerate a pun, the generator that lights them up is not in Manhattan; rather it is in the City that “has no need of the sun, nor of the moon, to shine in it. For the glory of God has enlightened it, and the Lamb is the lamp thereof” (Revelation 21:23).

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Our website is www.StMichaelNYC.com


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